I like to read. Among the things I like to read, and try to spend at least a few minutes daily reading, are legal opinions. In New Jersey, our Superior Court releases them for anyone to read - for free - shortly after ten o'clock every business morning. In my office, I am in the distinct minority in that I read them every day. If anything in a particular opinion seems to be of potential interest to anyone in the Firm - I copy the link to the opinion and circulate it via e-mail to my colleagues.
A number of my colleagues routinely delete my e-mail without reading the opinion. I know they do because I have a setting on my e-mail that informs me thusly. I have an e-mail folder that contains the most egregious, serial offenders. Irish Alzheimer's Disease is very much a real thing. Trust me. I know of which I speak.
I read because while I am a man of few loves, my love of language is among them. I am painfully aware that my affection for it rarely manifests itself in my use of it. In my next life, perhaps. I know not who should be more terrified by the prospect of me having a "next life" - me or the rest of the world? I assure you that it is a notion in which I have as little interest as do the rest of you.
It intrigues me when legal matters are decided by an element or an issue in the case that seems at first blush to have little to do with the law. An element or an issue such as punctuation.
Less than one week ago, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit unanimously reversed the United States District Court for the District of Maine's decision in the matter of O'Connor, et al. v. Oakhurst Dairy, et al., which is a civil action involving a dispute between a Maine dairy and its delivery drivers regarding the scope of an exemption to the overtime law in the state of Maine. Oakhurst Dairy prevailed at the District Court level. The court entered summary judgment in its favor and dismissed the drivers' complaint with prejudice.
Judge Barron authored the appellate court's opinion, which begins with a sentence that exquisitely sets up the story to follow, "For want of a comma, we have this case." Not just any comma, of course, but the revered or reviled (depending upon your point of view) Oxford comma.
In the O'Connor case, the Court of Appeals' embrace of the drivers' position could ultimately require Oakhurst Dairy to pay several million dollars in overtime. Not crying over spilled milk is all well and good but when several millions dollars are at stake, I assure you that at least a tear or two was shed at the dairy upon its receipt of the court's decision.
At first blush, it appears as if Oakhurst Dairy intends to seek relief from the court's March 13, 2017 opinion and order,which relief might ultimately lead it to the Supreme Court of the United States. Judge Neil Gorsuch, a member of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, begins his confirmation hearing for a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, March 20. He shall undoubtedly be subjected to rigorous questioning on a variety of subjects, including perhaps some culled from this list.
Maybe, just maybe, the first question out of the box should seek to uncover Judge Gorsuch's position on the Oxford comma. Of course, he may prove to be as hard to pin down on that topic as he has reportedly been on multiple other topics. If he is, then he could be forever known as the "Comma Chameleon", irrespective of whether he is confirmed to the Court.
Cue the music, George...